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The Trials of Theology

Andrew Cameron, and Brian Rosner, eds. The Trials of Theology: Becoming a ‘Proven Worker’ in a Dangerous Business. Christian Focus, 2009. 

Review by Fred Zaspel–

This is an unusual book. First, its authors come from both the past and the present. Second, in under 200 pages it addresses a wide range of pastoral, biblical, theological, historical, and ethical disciplines related to the study of “divinity.” And most of all, its focus is not on the advantages and valuable fruit of each of these wonderful pursuits but on the dangers and pitfalls — the “trials” — associated with each!

Bringing together the thoughtful counsel of Augustine, Luther, Spurgeon, Warfield, Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, John Woodhouse, D.A. Carson, Carl Trueman, Gerald Bray, and Dennis Hollinger, the editors have provided a helpful resource of value to all but especially the student newly launching into a career of theological study.

No book of this nature could be complete without Warfield’s classic lecture, “The Religious Life of Theological Students.” His exhortations to diligence in matters both academic and “devotional” is especially helpful, denying — even condemning — the false dichotomy that leads one to choose between the two. This essay should be required reading for all theological students — and all who vocationally labor in things “divine.”

Carson’s essay — “The Trials of Biblical Studies” — in many ways constitutes the heart of the book. He offers cautions pertaining both to academic and ethical responsibilities and hazards associated with the work of the biblical scholar. His warning of the temptation to spiritual pride built in to our work is especially insightful: one who excels in any other domain of study may well become proud, but it is unlikely that they will become guilty of spiritual pride because of it. But precisely because we treat matters pertaining to God, we will be tempted to think that as we advance in our learning we are, ispso facto, spiritually superior. Of course it just does not follow, and we must be careful to remember that whatever advance we make it is by grace alone (1Cor. 4:7).

Augustine’s emphasis on the need of sufficient prayerful preparation upon entering the ministry, Luther’s emphasis on prayerful study and the theologian’s own experiential acquaintance with the gospel he teaches, Spurgeon’s exhortations to prayer-preparation before preaching, and Lewis’s caution against the prideful desire to be accepted as part of the “Inner Ring” of the respected, are all outstanding — needful and valuable exhortations all. And Trueman’s highlighting of the use and abuse of historical studies is a helpful guide for those of us who only dabble in church history.

Trials of Theology offers profitable reading for pastors and professional scholars alike, and it would serve very well as required reading for all seminary students.

Fred Zaspel holds a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is currently a pastor at the Reformed Baptist Church of Franconia, PA. He is also Professor of Systematic Theology at Calvary Baptist Seminary in Lansdale, PA. He is the author of The Theology of B.B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (Crossway, 2010) and Warfield on the Christian Life: Living in Light of the Gospel (Crossway, 2012).

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